Gregg Krupa ranks top Red Wings prospects

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Givani Smith, left, and Dennis Cholowski

Detroit – So far, the Red Wings have used none of their 20 draft picks from 2017 and 2018 to buff up a trade package, and the state of their depth chart is a reason why.

Their intent is stocking young talent.

For prospects, they are thin in defensemen and goalies.

The Wings have gotten bigger throughout their system, but large forwards are still desired, too.

And they could use some rough-and-tough guys who can eventually play quality minutes in the NHL.

Considering their top five defensive prospects, acquiring free agent Trevor Daley is unlikely to block the path of anyone young and effective, anytime soon. The pool of immediately available apprentices is insufficient.

At forward, the Red Wings are deeper, and Evgeny Svechnikov may emerge as a star.

At goalie, two tall men are the top prospects.

For the purpose of this evaluation, prospects include those who did not spend significant time on the roster in Detroit last season.

It also takes the long view. In determining who is valuable, the gauge is the potential to mount the best NHL career.

On that basis, this is my list of the most valuable prospects, ranked by position, for the Red Wings.


1. Dennis Cholowski

Age: 19

Ht./Wt.: 6-1/175

Drafted: First round, 2016, 20th overall

2016-17: Grand Rapids, 1 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS; St. Cloud State, 36 GP, 1 G, 11 A, 12 PTS

Analysis: Cholowski will be slow to develop, especially for a first-round pick. There is some chance it will be worth the wait. He skates well and is a puck-mover with high hockey intelligence and sound, quick decision-making. Some scouts say his vision is exceptional. He is bigger than a year ago, but physical development is where he lags. Already a good skater, with greater strength and size, he may prove a handful. He needs to shoot harder from the point. Cholowski’s stick is continuously in position, and his reactions are quick enough to make him a potentially a formidable poke-checker.

2. Filip Hronek

Age: 19

Ht./Wt.: 6-0/165

Drafted: Second round, 2016, 53rd overall

2016-17: Grand Rapids, 10 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS; Saginaw (OHL), 59 GP, 14 G, 47 A, 61 PTS

Analysis: Skilled enough to quarterback the power play, Hronek’s character is solid enough to be named captain of the 2017 Czech squad at the World Junior Championship. Scouts say he shows considerable ability to get the puck on net, from the point. He is also a fine passer and good, some say excellent, skater. Lighter than Dennis Cholowski, he needs to add size and strength. Still acclimating to North American ice surfaces, Hronek’s defensive zone coverage requires improvement.

3. Vili Saarijarvi

Age: 20

Ht./Wt.: 5-10/165

Drafted: Third round, 2015, 73rd overall

2016-17: Mississauga (OHL), 34 GP, 11 G, 20 A, 31 PTS

Analysis: Saarijarvi is a quick, small, puck-handling defenseman, whose offensive skills may exceed Filip Hronek’s. But his defensive performance lags both Dennis Cholowski and the Czech defender. Despite starting the season with a wrist injury, he played well enough to be nominated for most outstanding defenseman in the OHL. A strong skater with exemplary speed, Saarijarvi is, however, too light on the puck. Some scouts say it is hampering his ability to exit the zone, carrying it. He also must compete better along the boards and near the net in his own zone.

Joe Hicketts

4. Joe Hicketts

Age: 21

Ht./Wt.: 5-8/180

Drafted: Undrafted free agent, signed September 2014

2016-17: Grand Rapids, 73 GP, 7 G, 27 A, 34 PTS; Calder Cup Playoffs, 19 GP, 1 G, 7 A, 8 PTS

Analysis: By now, there is little doubt, Hicketts has heard enough about how he must strive to be like Torey Krug, the 5-9 Bruins defenseman from Royal Oak. At 5-8, Hicketts is all about trying. And that is a considerable weapon. Coaches describe Hicketts as a lion-hearted competitor who is all in, all the time. He may have been the biggest hitter on the Calder Cup-winning Griffins’ roster. Hicketts also moves the puck and his shot from the point is rated good-to-dangerous. His NHL success depends on his ability to compete against bigger bodies, playing at a quicker pace.

5. Robbie Russo

Age: 24

Ht./Wt.: 6-0/195

Drafted: By New York Islanders in fourth round, 2011, 95th overall.

2016-17: Red Wings, 19 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS; Grand Rapids, 58 GP, 7 G, 25 A, 32 PTS; Calder Cup Playoffs, 19 GP, 0 G, 7 A, 7 PTS

Analysis: Russo is a smart puck-moving defenseman, who can quarterback the power play and score from the point. While he has gotten bigger, his ability to play the physical game also will be tested in the NHL. It is especially true when handling the puck because his skating does not always keep him out of trouble. Of the five defense prospects here, Russo has the most NHL playing time and he looked solid at the end of the season for the Red Wings.

Evgeny Svechnikov


1. Evgeny Svechnikov

Age: 20

Ht./Wt.: 6-3/205

Drafted: First round, 2015, 19th overall

2016-17: Red Wings, 2 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS; Grand Rapids, 74 GP, 20 G, 31 A, 51 PTS; Calder Cup Playoffs, 19 GP, 5 G, 7 A, 12 PTS

Analysis: Svechnikov is big, skates well and possesses superlative offensive skills, including good hands and a sniper’s shot. Red Wings scouts believe he learned quickly in Grand Rapids, as he did in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. His two-way game is lagging. But developing more awareness defensively is often part of the continuing progression in the NHL for a big player who can score. Svechnikov seems ready for something close to a full season with the Red Wings.

2. Tyler Bertuzzi

Age: 22

Ht./Wt.: 6-1/200

Drafted: Second round, 2013, 58th overall

2016-17: Red Wings, 7 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS; Grand Rapids, 48 GP, 12 G, 25 A, 37 PTS; Calder Cup Playoffs, 19 GP, 9 G, 10 A, 19 PTS

Analysis: To know Bertuzzi, check the AHL playoff stats, realize he has played just about as well in the postseason, previously, and then consider he also had 50 penalty minutes, the team leader by 100 percent. When the fat is on the fire, he produces. Whether scoring or responding to aggression, Bertuzzi is a lunch bucket player who performs. Could make Wings roster out of camp.

Givani Smith

3. Givani Smith

Age: 19

Ht./Wt.: 6-2/209

Drafted: Second round, 2016, 46th overall

2016-17: Grand Rapids, 3 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS; Guelph (OHL), 64 GP, 26 G, 18 A, 44 PTS

Analysis: Smith scored more than 20 goals and 40 points in consecutive junior hockey seasons, and he received the most penalty minutes in both years running. His possession skills are elevated. If an opponent wants the puck and Smith has it, asking for it and saying please might be the best strategy. If an opponent values his well-being, he marks Smith’s presence on the ice. His offensive numbers are not stellar, and Smith is not a top skater or terrific shooter. But his assertive approach, physicality and smarts may eventually produce scoring chances in the NHL.

4. Michael Rasmussen

Age: 18

Ht./Wt.: 6-6/220

Drafted: First round, 2017, ninth overall

2016-17: Tri-City (WHL), 50 GP, 32 G, 23 A, 55 PTS

Analysis: Likely to return to the Americans, Rasmussen figures to be a work in progress for a few seasons. The Red Wings were criticized for the pick, but praised his character and size and said they are prepared to be patient. What could make him stick in the NHL is Rasmussen’s willingness – indeed, preference – to go to the dirty areas around the goal crease, where feebler players demur, and where he is eminently capable of setting up camp and using his brawn and instincts to control play.

5. Lane Zablocki

Age: 18

Ht./Wt.: 6-0/180

Drafted: Third round, 2017, 79th overall.

2016-17: Regina and Red Deer (WHL) combined, 64 GP, 28 G, 26 A, 54 PTS

Analysis: Zablocki can both score and grind. Unranked by several of the major scouting agencies, he was traded midseason when the Pats wanted to reinforce for the playoffs. But the Rebels arguably got the better performance. His potential is as a support player in roles so various he can play up and down on the four lines, while killing penalties and playing on the power play.

Keith Petruzzelli


1. Keith Petruzzelli

Age: 18

Ht./Wt.: 6-6/190

Drafted: Third round, 2017, 88th overall.

2016-17: Muskegon (USHL), 35 GP, 2.40 GAA, .918 PCT

Analysis: Petruzzelli features an economy of motion. He seems continually square to the puck and it contributes to sound rebound control. Former NHL goalie John Vanbiesbrouk, the Lumberjacks GM, says Petruzzelli’s reads and quick reactions, plus his size, add up to good performance, and he praises the teenager’s professionalism. Possible NHL starter, heading to Quinnipiac.

2. Jared Coreau

Age: 25

Ht./Wt.: 6-6/220

Drafted: Undrafted free agent, signed April 2013

2016-17: Red Wings, 14 GP, 3.46 GAA, .887 PCT; Grand Rapids, 33 GP, 2.33 GAA, .917 PCT; Calder Cup Playoffs, 19 GP, 2.84 GAA, .909 PCT

Analysis: Tied for the lead among these 12 prospects in size, Coreau helps move the Red Wings farther into the era of big, big goalies. Whether he plays well enough, consistently for stints as a backup or starter in the NHL remains in question. His spotty stint with the Red Wings included two shutouts despite the unpalatable stats.